The Burdens of Childhood
by Melissa Jooty (email me at cosmic_quest@yahoo.com)

CHAPTER ELEVEN- Of Serpents and Lions

Despite himself, Ron found himself enjoying the duties entailed with babysitting the little Severus. All his life, as the second youngest child of his large family, Ron had been treated with kid-gloves, especially since there was a full two years separating him and Ginny from their elder brothers. Even after all he had faced over the last five years, his parents, his mother in particular, found it difficult to accept their youngest son was nearer manhood than childhood.

However, this year it was all different. Ron never would have imagined there were advantages to sharing the school with a six-year-old Severus Snape until he started reaping the rewards. Between the Order teachers being so preoccupied with the child that they spent less time clucking over the Gryffindor trio, which Harry appreciated most, to the huge age gap between them and the young Snape highlighting to the adults they were no longer First Years, in turn, led to them being allowed to play a small role in protecting Severus. It was brilliant; even Voldemort was neglecting his annual torture of Harry to focus his attention on his new 'prince'.

Yet, at the end of the day, what Ron relished most out of the whole situation was Severus himself. It was so refreshing to be held in awe, the younger boy's eyes gazing up to him in the same idolising little brother way Ron once paid to Bill and Charlie. And, unlike the junior section of the school, it was not because he was Harry Potter's friend.

Ironically, he hadn't intended to ever be in a position to be left in charge of his former Potions Master. In fact, at first, he had deliberately set out to ignore the boy, refusing to believe Severus Snape could ever be an innocent child. However, it was hard to avoid Severus when Harry was so taken by him and often invited him to Quidditch practice or to sit beside them at suppertime. Ron soon found it difficult not to like the chirpy, sweet-natured Sev whose very presence simply refused to be ignored so, mastering the art of denial, the teenager settled for simply pushing to the back of his mind the boy's true identity and the torment he once delighted to unleash upon many a Gryffindor student.

Of course, Ron did share the position of honourary big brother to Severus with not only Harry but the school prat Malfoy so it was not all milk and honey.

"Ron, are you doing your homework or day dreaming?" Hermione asked, in a tone so worthy of his mother it cut straight through his reverie.

"He's day dreaming I think," giggled a young voice. It seemed where Snape the grown man could be an unyielding slave-driver, Severus the boy could be a typical pain-in-the-arse when he chose to play up.

Forgetting his praise of the boy, Ron scowled at him. "What do you know? All you have to do is colour in and play with your toys; you don't even need homework since you know everything already."

"Actually, it's rather hard work colouring in," Severus said, a smug little smile pulling at his lips.


Sitting by the lake to finish off their Charms homework and did their stint of babysitting sounded like a good idea this morning but now it was a reality, Ron just could not focus. It was hard enough to study at the best of times, only now he had the added distraction of Severus playing with all his wonderful toys. The animation crayons that produced moving pictures and the collection of 'Young Merlin' figures, who responded to simple commands and came complete with a hovering broomstick, were so appealing compared to a tedious Charms essay.

Most tempting of all the toys, however, were the pair of paint-guns Ron's father had acquired during his travels to Muggle London recently. His mother had sent it, along with a few of her children's old toys and games, to Hogwarts' youngest resident to keep him occupied and away from the 'dreadfully frightening' proceedings revolving around him. Of course, Molly Weasley had also taken the precaution of sending paint pellets that disappeared after ten minutes so the colour did not stain clothing, which was just as well since Severus took great pleasure in shooting everyone, from Fang the dog to a very unamused Filch.

However, while it was brilliant his mother had found another target to coddle, Ron couldn't help but feel a tad indignant that she had not sent *him* the paint-guns since he was the one preparing for an impending war. Moreover, who would have imagined Muggles could such produce fascinating products for their children? Products far too 'complex' and 'dangerous' to be wasted on a six-year-old. And from the way Harry was eagerly regarding the toys guns, he too was evidently sharing the same thoughts as Ron.

"Oh, do grow up," Hermione hissed at him, nothing escaping her attention, "You should be worrying about your exams, not playing with toys."

"That's right," Severus echoed, "You should be studying."

It was Harry's turn to smirk as he replied, "Just think, you have all this to look forward to since they don't seem to have much luck in fixing you."

Both the older boys' sadistic satisfaction wilted away when Severus shook his head. "I won't have to re-sit my exams, Professor McGonagall checked and they said my exams are just as good as anyone else's and are more up-to-date than most of the teachers here. All I have to do for the next twelve years or so is some kind of apprenticeship."

"That's not fair," Ron whined.

Having reached his ten minute limit for sitting still, Severus wandered over to the bank of the lake in the hopes of catching a glimpse of the Hogwarts' giant squid. With boyish grins, both Ron and Harry dived on the abandoned paint-guns much to Hermione's disgust. Girls- they just didn't understand! As an after thought, Harry remembering to shout a warning not to enter the water to Severus before he and Ron began a mock battle ignoring their friend's tutting.

The boys so intent on their game and Hermione on her homework, the threesome failed to notice Draco Malfoy approach them until his shadow blocked the rays of bright autumn sun. The blond boy's eyes flicked to his former professor before coming to rest on the Gryffindors.

"Well, well, well, this is a nice, wee gathering: Potty, Weasel and Mudblood, all together like a bad smell. And look at their ickle game? I always knew hanging with Mudbloods poisoned the mind."

The three Gryffindors gazed up to the direction of the mocking voice. Malfoy regarded them in malicious amusement, Goyle and Crabbe customarily flanking him like the pair of idiotic, empty-headed bodyguards they were. Ron realized his hissed tones were not just an attempt to emulate his former Head of House, he was also being careful Severus did not overhear him insulting the younger boy's friends.

"What do you want, Malfoy?" Ron spat out, cursing himself for not spotting Malfoy sooner.

When they were younger, although he hated the Slytherin with a vengeance, all Ron had to fear from him was a few childish pranks. It was common knowledge among the upper school that Lucius Malfoy was a Death Eater in his younger days and had, very likely, reclaimed his former alliances with You-Know-Who. It was only a matter of time before Malfoy junior followed suit, if he hadn't already. The whole idea sickened the young Gryffindor; he might have been poor but at least he had his pride and his principles.

Now Ron was increasingly aware Malfoy was approaching an age when he would be initiated into the Death Eaters' clan, he was a very real danger to many, Harry and Hermione in particular. Ron was determined not to turn his back on Malfoy, especially now that danger extended to the young Snape who was far too young and impressionable to defend himself.

Malfoy's scornful eyes drifted from the paint-guns to Harry, completely ignoring both Ron and Hermione. "Reliving your infancy, Potty?" he remarked, scathingly.

"Bugger off, Malfoy," muttered Harry, his emerald eyes darkening as he struggled to maintain his temper.

Malfoy smirked, continuing as if the Gryffindor had not spoken. "I suppose it's understandable. The great Boy-Who-Lived didn't get much chance to play with baby toys locked up in the cupboard. Is that it, Potter? Are you regressing? Maybe it's time that old fool Dumbledore shipped you off to St Mungo's before you snap."

Harry flushed at the mention of his abusive childhood, and Ron instantly jumped to his friend's defence. "Why don't you slither back to where bloody well you came from, Malfoy? And for your information, these," he held up his mock gun, "are mine."

At this, the blond boy laughed as if Ron had told him a hilarious joke. "Yours? Weasley, I'm amazed you and your litter managed to make it to Hogwarts without dying of malnutrition. Your parents can barely afford to clothe you in rags let alone buy things like that." He sobered, nodding slightly. "But it would be like a Weasley to embrace Mudblood ways, you're a traitor to every pureblood who's lived and died. It's an insult to Slytherin that they allow Severus to mix with you half-breeds and your mangy godfather."

"Better he be with us 'half-breeds' than being with some pathetic Death Eater," Harry shot back. "Enjoy your freedom while it lasts, Azkaban is not nearly so comfortable. Just ask your dear old Aunt Bellatrix."

Eyes narrowing, Malfoy's arrogant voice turned low and vicious. "I'd watch my mouth if I were you, Potter, or you could end up like your late friend Diggory. It's just a shame Black did not join him like he was supposed to in June."

Harry made a move to lunge at the other boy, determined to wipe the grin from his smug face. Seeing Ron was not going to stop him, it was Hermione who grabbed the dark-haired boy with a strength her friends never thought her slender frame could possessed.

"Harry, no!" she yelled, jerking him back.

Malfoy and his cronies laughed at the display, further infuriating Ron. Then, with an abruptness that stunned the three Gryffindors, his mocking smirk softened into what might have passed for a genuine smile if it were anyone but Malfoy. Ron turned to see the reason in the sudden transformation; Severus was walking up from the lake towards them.

"Draco," greeted the child, beaming happily up at Malfoy.

While he knew Severus was too little to see Malfoy for what he was, it still burned Ron to see the boy so overjoyed to see the Slytherin. Lupin and the Headmaster had warned them not to colour Severus' friendship with the Slytherins. That as his custodial issues would probably be decided mainly by the American Council thus meaning Dumbledore's opinions would hold little sway in the matter, they couldn't be seen to be encouraging rivalry and a fear of his own roots in the boy. Still, Ron wished Dumbledore would allow Severus to be re-Sorted- the boy's happy disposition would surely land him in Gryffindor- then the Slytherins buggers would leave them all in peace.

It seemed he was not the only one to forget the sermon on the importance of allowing this contact with the Slytherins as Harry opened his mouth, no doubt to hurl an insult when he was cut off by Malfoy.

"Hello, Severus," Malfoy smoothly said, speaking to the younger boy yet carefully eyeing the Gryffindor trio. "How are you? Not being chased by any dragons or werewolves, have you?"

Severus giggled. "No, they live in the Forest, they can't get me here."

What might have sounded like a joke to Severus was clearly a warning to the Gryffindors to keep silent lest they risk exposing Lupin's condition to the boy. Ron scowled, struggling to hold his counsel. It would be nice if there were a few dragons and werewolves here right now; there were three slimy snacks all ready for eating here.

Throwing a triumphant smirk at his fuming rivals, Malfoy turned his attention to Severus. "Are you ready for the Quidditch match tomorrow?"

"Yep, Sirius and Remus are taking me to watch it."

Malfoy flicked a sneer of disgust to his Gryffindor opponents. "You're not supporting Gryffindor, are you?"

"Well..." Severus trailed off, uncertainly. "Harry and Ron are on the team, I said I'd cheer them on."

"I suppose the ickle Gryffs need all the help they can get. I'm on the Slytherin team, you know, and so is Crabbe and Goyle."

"Really? No-one told me."

"That doesn't surprise me," Malfoy said, glowering over the child's head to Harry. "I've brought you a present from my father."

Severus' dark eyes lit up. "Lucius sent me a present?"

"Should we let him have it?" Ron muttered. "It could be poison or some sort of brainwashing, dark magic toy."

"We should incinerate it," Harry whispered.

"You don't snatch a present away from a child," Hermione scolded softly. "If it looks fishy, we can have the Headmaster or Sirius look at it."

The threesome watched suspiciously, wands discreetly in hand, as the boy pulled out a miniaturised object from his trouser pocket. He cast a charm and the elegantly wrapped package ballooned in size, which he then handed to Severus in mock-reverence. Ron had to hand it to Malfoy, the theatrics coupled with the slight wait only increased the child's anticipation of his present. Had the gift actually been hexed, he and his friends wouldn't have had a chance to cast a counter-curse in the fervour Severus ripped open the package.

As it was, the wrapping paper was pushed to the ground to reveal a long scarf, a flag and a clacker all in Slytherin green and silver. And while Ron thought the gifts only worthy for fire kindling, Severus seemed pleased as he swirled the scarf around his neck.

"You're a Slytherin," Malfoy explained, "it's only right you wear Slytherin colours at tomorrow's match."

The younger boy nodded. "You're right, I'll cheer on Ron and Harry but I should be wishing Slytherin more luck 'cause I am one."

"You really are a true Slytherin, Severus," Malfoy said, gleefully.

Ron couldn't contain himself any longer. "I suppose you need all the luck you can get, Malfoy, your pathetic-excuse-for-a-team hasn't won a game against us in the five years we've been here."

Although Severus scowled at the insult, the Slytherin boy just smirked coolly. "Don't be so confident, Weasley, this has been a year of change..."

There was something different in this certainty of victory. There was still the mocking debasing of oppositions teams, and most definitely typical cockiness but this time, there was a real sense of determination Ron had never before seen in Malfoy. This time Malfoy truly *wanted* to win for a reason besides beating the Gryffindor's famous Boy Who Lived, and even Ron was not so blind to comprehend this new tenacity made him a very worthy opponent in tomorrow's game.

The Slytherin boy winked at his tiny House Head. "I'll be looking out for you tomorrow, Sev. Tomorrow's victory shall be for Slytherin's honour and for you, our former Head of House."

Severus waved as Malfoy stalked off, his robes billowing around him in the admittedly charismatic manner Snape's once did, with Crabbe and Goyle dimly following behind like two errant children. It was obvious to Ron that although he and Harry did hold a place of brotherly adoration, in the child's mind it was Malfoy- both father and son- whom the sun rose and set on. In fact, Severus' awe of the Malfoys reminded him much of how Harry once looked upon Sirius with the same hero-worship. Deep down, he knew the familiar bonds he shared with his Gryffindor family was worth ten times more than the pedestal he had placed the Slytherins on, he couldn't help but feel a wave of childish betrayal.

"You're not really going to support that prat's team, are you?" Ron scorned, unable to keep his jealousy at bay for much longer.

"You shouldn't say things about him," the little boy snapped back.

"He says things about me!"

Severus opened his mouth to retort then he nodded thoughtfully. "Yes...he does call you names too."

Feeling ridiculous for picking a fight with a six-year-old, he couldn't help inquiring, "Like what?"

"I'm not a tell-tale," Severus sniffed, turning away. "Anyway, you don't hate all Slytherins. You said you would fancy Millicent if she probably wasn't shagging Draco." He frowned. "What *is* shagging?"

Hermione whirled around to scowl irately at her friend. "Ronald Weasley, I can't believe you're using disgusting words like that in front of a little boy."

Ron spluttered a response as the girl continued to rebuke him like an exasperated mother. Behind her, he could see Severus grinning roguishly at him and he couldn't help but wonder if Malfoy was right, if the little fiend was a true Slytherin after all.

Blocking out Hermione's reprimand with a roll of the eyes, he then fondly remembered of how he too used to enjoy smirking away when his mother chastised Percy or the twins for a stitch up of his making. True Slytherin or not, Ron more accurately realized the kid was learning very quickly how the play the role of bratty, little brother.

*************************

"There- all done," Remus said, finally. "What do you think?"

Gazing into the mirror from the chair he was standing on, Severus nodded in approval at Remus' work. His co-guardian had diligently intertwined the Gryffindor and Slytherin scarves together then carefully arranged them around the boy's neck. Despite Padfoot's grumbling, Remus felt rather proud that the child was successfully managing his duel loyalties to both Hogwarts' Houses. He had been concerned Severus would feel divided, especially given his growing friendship with Draco and his friends, but the youngster's resilience instead made him ashamed that the adults around him could sometimes be so petty when it came to House allegiance.

"Do you think it's okay if I support both Slytherin and Gryffindor?" Severus asked. He was still a child and it was natural no matter how self-assured he could be that he worried over such matters, particularly since he doted on both Harry and Draco.

"I think it's a wonderful idea," Remus reassured with a smile.

"I don't know if Ron will think it's wonderful."

Remus had to agree; the youngest Weasley boy reminded him of Sirius and James in many ways, and sometimes that was not always a compliment. "Ron will be more interested in the game than what you're doing. And I believe he's more concerned if you support Draco rather than if you support Slytherin, if you know what I mean."

"Mmm, he really doesn't like Draco; he likes Draco even less than Harry does and that's saying something." The boy mulled for a moment. "Well, I hope the game is a draw; then both Draco, and Harry and Ron win in a way."

Ruffling silkily dark hair affectionately, Remus didn't have the heart to tell Severus there was no way there could be a draw in Quidditch, the game simply went on until one team's Seeker caught the snitch and clinched success. He wondered how such an adorably thoughtful child could ever have been Sorted in the darkness of Slytherin then he quickly quenched the thought. In these bleak times, there was no room for prejudice and stereotypes; that was what led to the rising of Voldemort in the first place.

"Come along, Sev," he sighed, swinging the boy down to the floor, "they'll be starting the game without us."

*************************

"Enjoying yourself?" Sirius asked.

"Uh-uh," Steven replied, his eyes on the excitement in front of him.

Last Easter, all the residents of the Centre were donated tickets to a baseball game and although many of the older children loved every minute, Steven and his contemporaries lost interest within ten minutes. Quidditch was different; the pace was swift and it was violent to satisfy the blood lust of any young boy. It was just a shame Sirius had banned him from even touching a broom until he started wizarding school, he couldn't wait to be up in the air with Harry and his classmates. And then there was Jessica, she'd never let him play if she found out what was entailed. She already thought American football was for hooligans so it took no genius to predict what she'd think of the wizarding game.

Steven had been further impressed when the Slytherin team all bowed to him just before Madame Hooch blew the whistle to signify the start of the game. Sirius had scowled at them but it didn't deter Steven from waving, feeling flushed with the attention. However, he didn't understand why Sirius and a group of Harry's friends were laughing at the Slytherin's playing prowess; they had been leading by a good majority from the start.

"That Malfoy brat is like a different kid this year," Sirius commented, in a mix of suspicion and grudging admiration. "I hate to say it, he's almost as good as Harry."

Remus glanced at Steven. "I think they have an added incentive this year to look good for."

The dark-haired man grunted. "Harry'll still thrash their arses, you wait and see. Plays just like his father and he isn't about to let some snake beat him."

Steven shared a look of exasperation with Remus; even the boy, who had only known Sirius for all of two-and-a-half months, was more than aware his guardian's stubborn view of the House of Serpents would never change. He long since stopped protesting on the Slytherins behalf although he had made it defiantly clear he would not break off his friendship to Draco and his friends despite how Sirius felt.

His contemplations were cut off when one of the Slytherin Chasers, a Fourth Year named Alistair Ackerman, whizzed past saluting to Steven as he went. Giggling at Sirius' disgruntlement, he refocused his attention on the action.

Three hours later, the child was rolling on the floor by Sirius' feet in utter tedium. Not even baseball lasted this long. When would this torture end?

"Is it nearly finished?" Steven whined.

"Nearly," assured Sirius, his eyes riveted on the game.

He had said that an *hour* ago. Across in the Gryffindor stand, Hermione caught his eye gracing him a weary smile and appearing every inch as bored. He should have sat with them when given the choice, at least they could have been bored together.

"I'll take you in if you want, Severus," Remus offered, sympathetically.

It was tempting but Steven knew how much Remus enjoyed watching Harry play, apparently it reminded him of the 'good old days' when Harry's father and Sirius were the stars of the Gryffindor team.

"It's okay," Steven replied, half-heartedly, "I can do this." He waited a few minutes then tugged on Sirius' trousers. "Can I go to the toilet?" It was, of course, not a question asked out of need to relieve himself but rather 'child code' hoping for a change of scenery.

To his credit, Sirius was catching on to these tricks and studied the youngster, dubiously. "Are you bursting?"

"Yes, I need to go *now*...or you'll get a chance to revisit the 'good old days' when Harry was a baby and wet himself."

Sirius stood up hastily. "Let's go then, Sev, don't want any accidents."

"You should be watching Harry, he said he was so looking forward to winning for you." Like all children his age, he knew exactly which buttons to press; adults, especially when they were eager to please their young charges, sometimes just it too easy.

"Ohh, well, I suppose..." Steven groaned inwardly when Sirius spotted one of the Gryffindor boys standing at the end of the row, sneaking into the teachers' stand to snap a better photo. "Oi! Uh, Colin, is it?"

"I can go by myself," wailed the little boy, plaintively, "I'm not a baby."

"I know you're not, I'd just feel better if you had someone with you."

Steven couldn't be sure if his tone implied Sirius was worried about Slytherins offering him up as a Satanical sacrifice, or that his foster father recalled the last time he visited the school toilets alone, he and Peeves had flooded all the sinks then had a contest to see who could dot the most wet paper-towels on the ceiling.

Seeing there was little point in arguing, the child allowed Sirius to arrange for Colin Creevey to accompany him back to the school. Luckily, he noticed Colin would rather have be capturing photographs of the game so he jumped on the opportunity.

"I can go by myself," Steven said, the second they reached the bottom of the stand, safely out of the adults' eyes.

Colin looked uncertain. "I don't know, sir- I mean, Severus."

"I've been going to the bathroom myself for more than thirty years. Besides, you should be watching the game."

"But Mr Black said-"

"Sirius worries too much, I will be fine," he curtly informed the older boy, deliberately adding a hint of command that worked so well in many of the children who still viewed him as 'Professor Snape'.

It worked. Colin looked suitably cowed although he tried to hide it. "Well, be right back then."

"I will." Steven smiled sweetly, enjoying how his shift from mini teacher to small child further disconcerted to his former student.

Colin watched him for a moment then allowed him to merrily scamper away. No intention of going back to the school, Steven skipped around on the grass, absently kicking the odd dandelion in his path. Suddenly, he stopped mid-movement, the strange perceptive sense honed in that time before 'Severus' became 'Steven' twitched in warning.

He was being watched.

He frowned, whirling around to the Slytherin stand on his far right then smiled widely at what greeted him.

"You came!"

*************************

On the edge of his seat, as if sheer hope could will his godson into catching the illusive snitch, everything else around Sirius faded into the background. He had played enough Quidditch in his youth to *feel* the game was drawing to the end and he had no intention of taking his attention away until Harry and fellow Gryffindors emerged victorious.

Still, he knew it would be close this time. He had only watched a handful of games since he was awarded his freedom and in those where Slytherin was playing, the Malfoy whelp had never been more than an above average Seeker; only marginally better than Ron compared to Harry who was a born Seeker if there ever was one. But today it was as if he was playing with a new fervour, like a boy possessed. From the brief close glimpses he caught of Harry, he could see his godson was also caught off-guard by Malfoy's newfound talent.

But Harry was his father's son and had already won every game he had ever played against Slytherin in the five years he had been on the Sirius had complete confidence in his boy, he-

Abruptly, he was startled out of his ruminating by a hand shaking him. He blinked up to find Remus and Dumbledore standing in front of him, both surprising trouble and tense.

"What?" His blue eyes shifted from Remus to Dumbledore. "What's wrong?"

"The wards had alerted me that someone had entered the grounds," the Headmaster informed him, grimly. "Someone who does not belong here."

"What?!" Sirius jumped up, running a hand through his long hair. He forced himself to calm; Harry was on the pitch and Severus was in the school building. "I thought no-one could enter Hogwarts without invitation."

Remus bit his lip, almost hesitating to let him in on whatever little tit-bit he was aware of. "Parents can."

"Parents? Oh hell, Malfoy..."

"Don't worry, Padfoot," Remus appeased. "Even he wouldn't dare harm the boys in full view at Hogwarts."

As if that was meant to assure him. Hadn't that damned Voldemort attacked Harry right on Hogwarts' grounds in the boy's First and Second Year? Sirius had learned the hard way there was no such place as a safe haven in this wretched war.

His eyes narrowed when he saw Colin Creevey bobbing around in the Ravenclaw stand, camera in hand. If he was there, then where in Merlin's name was Severus?! Sirius sharply gazed around the four House stands, desperately hoping Severus had joined Hermione or one of the Slytherin children.

Remus, as always, picked up his agitation. "What is it?"

"Severus...Where is Severus? That blasted Creevey boy must have left him go off by his bloody self." It took every ounce of self-restraint not to hex the little blight- either young Creevey or Severus, he wasn't picky who.

Without waiting from a response from his friend or the Headmaster, he darted along the row and practically flew down the stairs of the spectator stand. If Malfoy had touched one hair on that child's head, this time he would kill him once and for all. The damn Death Eater had to learn Severus was *his* and he would die before he saw Malfoy deliver the child to stand by Voldemort's side as his darkling heir.

And that's when he saw them...

Sirius let out an animalistic howl of rage, lunging for the blond man pretending to innocently chat with his pure, good foster son, all the while probably tainting him with his evil. He forgot his wand and magic, only interested in squeezing the life from Lucius Malfoy with his bare hands alone. Suddenly he was jerked back by a firm hand on his upper hand. He scowled, craning his head to find the Headmaster sternly glaring at him, silently warning him to desist. So intent on his goal, he hadn't heard Albus and Remus following close behind him.

"You are frightening the child," Dumbledore apprised, his hand still firmly holding Sirius back with more strength than one would accredit an elderly man.

Remus moved to his side. "Sirius, calm down and let the Headmaster handle this. You'll only make it worse. Look what you're doing to Severus."

By now, Severus had stepped away from Malfoy, warily watching Sirius with wide eyes that betrayed his fear and confusion. He tentatively approached his foster father, uncertain he would once again ignite the man's barely contained rage.

"Thank Merlin you're okay," Sirius heaved in relief, shrugging off Dumbledore to scoop up the child into his arms.

"I was just talking," Severus said patiently in that tone of a child quietly mollifying an over-reacting adult.

"You need to be careful, Sev, there are so many dangerous *monsters* around."

For Malfoy's part, he just studied Sirius in mild amusement as if he were a madman. Smug bastard wouldn't be smirking when he had a fist in his face.

Sensing his former student was on the edge, Dumbledore calmly said, "The school code of conduct strictly states a person can only enter Hogwarts to see their child. What are you doing with this boy, Lucius? He is not your child."

"Your information is incorrect, Headmaster," Malfoy coolly responded, "the code of conduct states a person can enter to see a 'family member'. Didn't you know- Severus here is my second cousin? We spent much time together growing up, I was more of an elder brother to him."

"We related?" asked the boy, his little face lighting up in the delight much to Sirius' disgust.

"Oh yes, and in wizarding society, blood bonds are very important. Nothing can come between you and I."

Why were they behaving like they were at a tea party? Sirius was impatiently waiting for the Headmaster to toss Malfoy out on his arse, anything to stop him talking to Severus.

"Now, Mr Malfoy," Dumbledore said, "if you are not here to see your son then I'm afraid I must ask you to leave."

Sirius could feel magic tingling around them, Dumbledore subtly warning the Death Eater not to do something he would regret.

Malfoy seemed far from impressed, however. He just smiled good-naturedly, "Oh, but I am here to see you. I have a matter to discuss regarding our young friend here. I-"

Anything he said thereafter was drowned out by the thumping of feet literally nearly rocking the stand of Slytherin House that they had congregated a few yards beside. The students all jubilantly burst into song, belting out words that sounded much in the form of, 'Weasley is our king!'.

"Why are they singing about Ron?" Severus asked in innocent bewilderment. "They don't like Ron, he's on the Gryffindor team."

Sirius nearly leapt on Malfoy at the pleased smile creasing his lips. "They are not singing Weasley's praise, my child, they are singing of their own victory. If I'm not mistaken, I believe Slytherin have won the game."

"They have?" Severus shared in Malfoy's smile, his more buoyant and sweet.

Sirius' blood was boiling now, aware that the git was right and Harry's team must have lost the match. "I don't know what the little buggers are singing about," he muttered, "the only way snakes know to the top is by cheating."

Malfoy's grey eyes slit back. "Are you referencing my son as a cheat?"

"If the name fits..."

"You never could accept it gracefully when Slytherin won; it must have been difficult seeing us take the Cup all seven years you were here and knowing the only reason Gryffindor has done so well in the recent years is less to do with ability and more to do with a certain boy they have acquired in their House. It's little wonder so many Slytherins turned away from this school's utter hypocrisy."

"Turned away where?"

It was only at Severus' soft question did they remember the child's presence. He watching the men scrupulously, evidently picking up on the rising tension permeating the surrounding atmosphere.

Dumbledore cleared his throat, "Sirius, perhaps you should take Severus inside. It's been a long day and I'm sure he's feeling tired, not to mention Harry will be needing some support in his defeat."

He loved his godson more than life itself and he knew Harry would be devastated at losing. Nonetheless, Sirius was not going to take a backseat in a matter that obviously concerned Severus. He was growing increasingly aware that although Albus Dumbledore was fond of his students, especially Harry, his interests had to be on the welfare of the entire Wizarding World. When it came to his loved ones, Sirius had to ensure *their* interests were protected, the Wizarding World could hang for all he cared.

"Harry will be fine," Sirius curtly replied. He handed Severus to Remus' capable hands. "Moony, would you please take Sev back to our rooms? I'll bet he's a bit peckish now."

"Uh..." Remus glanced at Dumbledore then nodded at his best friend, adjusting Severus into a more comfortable position in his arms. "Of course, come on, Severus, then we'll go comfort poor Harry."

Severus waved to them as Remus carried him off, the three remaining men gamely waving back. With the boy gone, Sirius saw no need to keep up the charade.

"Malfoy, what the hell are you doing here?"

"I've come for the boy," smirked Lucius, infinitely enjoying whatever mind game he was perpetrating.

"What- is this Voldemort's new plan, you waltzing in here with demands and expecting us to have Severus over. I'll see you rotting with Hades before that happens."

"I don't know what you're talking about, Black. But you *will* hand Severus over." He threw a parchment at the Headmaster. "I have been granted eight hours a week custodial access to the boy, signed by the Minister himself. and the head of the American Council. They felt Severus could use some outside influence and guidance, something my wife and I can provide for the child."

"He's fine with us," Sirius hissed.

"Yes, you- a former prisoner of Azkaban, a werewolf and an old coot." He raised an eyebrow at Dumbledore. "Pray tell, Dumbledore, does he know how you so failed him before? And again, ten months ago. This would never have happened had you not sent him into the lion's den; quite an arrangement you had with him, treating him like a expendable slave while your pet Gryffindors hide behind your robes. I always knew your favouritism would bounce back on you but I never thought it would be so splendid- the one Slytherin child with the power to blast your prized Potter brat to oblivion is the one you hurt most."

Dumbledore's eyes were no longer twinkling, instead icy in a chilled wrath. He reined it in with more control than Sirius could ever possess and, deeper still, the younger man could see a touch of sadness dampening the Headmaster's face although someone who was not as familiar with him would never detect it.

"Do not play your games with Severus," Albus replied, unruffled. "He is not your concern nor is he of concern to your...superior."

"Oh, I disagree and apparently, so do the Ministry and the Council."

"Sir?" Sirius asked, pleadingly of his former Headmaster. He surely could not be expected to voluntarily allow Malfoy to gleefully spirit Severus away while they sat back and watched. "Sir, what's he bleating about?"

Dumbledore sighed. "It's only for eight hours, Sirius, there is nothing we can do for now. We must oblige the courts, Fudge himself had overseen this."

That stupid, blind, fat imbecile. Just because Dumbledore was apprised of top secret information on Voldemort's threat, Fudge took his petty vendetta out on Severus. Merlin, how had such a pathetic prat elevated to such a position in their world? Sirius didn't know who he wished to murder first; Fudge for living or Malfoy for his smug face grinning back at him in triumph.

"Have the boy ready for me at ten o'clock tomorrow morning," Malfoy smoothly ordered.

Yes, Malfoy should die first. And Sirius vowed that when the war was taken to actually battle, Lucius Malfoy would be the first he obliterated from the face of the planet. As far as he was concerned, he would be doing humanity a huge favour.

End of CHAPTER ELEVEN- Of Serpents and Lions

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Slytherin finally wins a match against Gryffindor! Yes, I know it's not really happened but I became so impatient waiting for Draco to at least gain one coup, I decided to give it to him myself!

Anyway, what do you think of this chapter? Judging from your comments before, a lot of you seem to like wee Sev and don't wait to see him return to his adult state. Some of you are a little worried about the upcoming angst- well, I won't deny it, they're all going to suffer in the next few chapters. Lets just say, it's not Harry who gets to look in the Penseive in this story! But don't worry, whatever the outcome, I will ensure there's a happy ending for many (except Voldie and Pettigrew, of course!). Oh, I have a little story for you (a reward for all the great reviews I've received): a few months ago, a twenty-odd- year-old woman in Spain burnt down her house trying to make potions wee Sev style. Apparently, she's a huge Harry Potter fan! I've rambled on enough, as always please do review or email me with your thoughts on this chapter or any other of my stories.